Friday, December 28, 2007


On the second week of December, my friend S and I made a pact that whoever gains more weight after Christmas will pay for our body massage at the newly-opened spa in Bonifacio High Street. We’re weighing in tomorrow and I’m getting nervous! I still have one more party to attend tonight, and I’m gaining weight as I type this.

Three days after Christmas and I still feel stuffed! I guess as we grow older, Christmas isn’t so much about getting our wishes but eating our favorite foods! I skipped dinner last night, but at 2 am, I opened the fridge---another dead-of-the-night dining extravaganza for me! I ate the leftover chicken macaroni salad, ham and queso de bola…I reached for the leftover pasta but stopped myself. I enjoy my late night/early morning binges…everybody’s asleep except me, eating without rules. I like the quiet and comfort of my thoughts. I thought of leftovers, in their less visible form are called memories---stored in the fridge of the mind or in the cupboard of the heart.

A few of mine came up…hearty laughter shared with friends, the last embers of a bonfire by the beach, the long glance of love (from someone who used to love me) from across a room full of people, a long lost melody of a childhood song---Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, that brought me to sleep in my father’s arms, and a chunk of poetry I learned in high school---Tiger, tiger burning bright/in the forest of the night/what immortal hand or eye/dared frame thy fearful symmetry?

I am not often aware that I am happy. But I often remember that I have been happy. Especially on nights when I sit eating leftovers, wrapped in an invisible patchwork quilt made of the best moments I had. I thought of you---where were you at this moment? Or some other people who might be at the same place in their kitchen at this very moment, hungering as I hunger, wondering as I wonder. King Solomon must also had been suffering from a sleep disorder and got hungry at 2 am when he wrote---'Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love...'

Thursday, December 27, 2007

For Toto

i should have told you

that love is

more than being warm

in bed,

more than individuals

seeking an accomplice...

even more

than wanting to share.

i could have said

that love at best

is giving what you need to give.

but it was raining

and we had no place to go...

and riding through EDSA in a cab,

i remembered

that words are only necessary

after love

has gone.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas postmortem

Christmas is over. How’s your Christmas hangover? Is the pocket bruised? The heart soothed? The wishes satisfied to the point of burping? If you pretended at giving, succumbing to the season’s expectations, are you squirming still? Forgive yourselves---we have to do those things once a year.

I usually feel deflated the day after Christmas. After the season’s excitement, the quietness this morning was a welcome respite. The rain seemed to rouse my aching limbs but I stayed in bed a while longer and listened to the voices downstairs.

I could hear Fritz barking as he ran into the house, anxious for its friendly smells and comforting noises from my nephews. Leftover ham, coffee, footsteps, boards creaking under the weight of remembered feet, laughter of all pitches and ages. The music of a family, my personal scrapbook of memories.

Five days to recuperate before the bustle of the New Year don’t seem so bad.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is Santa Claus Chinese?

My sister, brothers and I were never introduced to Santa Claus but I love the idea of this character to entertain kids. My nephew once asked if Santa Claus is Chinese while he was busy opening his Christmas presents. The adults looked at each other…my sister-in-law winked and said Santa is from the North Pole. When we asked my 6-year old nephew why he thought Santa was Chinese, he innocently explained that all his toys are “Made in China” so Santa Claus should come from there.

From then on, I gave my sister-in-law all her holiday trimmings and décor---all made in the Philippines, and showed my nephews photos of how each item was made by Filipino artisans. Like these whimsical Santa Claus characters designed by a Filipina artist Weenee Sambrano. These Christmas décor “Made in the Philippines” are adding more than just a touch of color and whimsy to homes around the globe. These have gained the acceptance of discriminating markets worldwide for excellent concept and innovativeness.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Wreaths

Of all the festive décor that adorn the homes, streets, trees, offices, malls, etc. during Christmastime, my favorite is the Christmas wreath. Displayed on the door, it is a welcome sight when you enter someone’s home. A Filipina designer, Tami Leung, makes fabulous wreaths [and other Christmas décor] using natural pods, seeds, twigs, vine, and paper, for leaves and flowers. Tami's designs are being carried by retailers and catalogs in the US. Her showroom is located at P. Guevarra Street in San Juan.

Our modern term wreath, or corona de flores ("crown of flowers") in Spanish is, curiously enough, etymologically linked to our word wrist with both terms implying a continuous physical circular shape. It came from the Olde English writha, and then it transpired into Middle English's wrethe denoting a twisted band or ring of leaves or flowers formed into a garland. The holly wreath goes back to the prehistorically Germanic wristiz, which also produced the modern German rist meaning both "in-step" and "wrist" and its modern variant in today's Swedish's vrist, denoting the same meaning. This was derived from the earlier, lengthy prefix writh- whose wr- sound might have been originally associated with a twisting motion.

In México and throughout many parts of Latin America, la estación festiva or the holiday season begins on December 7th and continues for almost two full months thru February 2nd. In this sense, it is truly a "season" and not simply a "holiday break". On the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, Mexican families serve rosca de reyes (literally "ring of kings"), a traditional wreath-shaped cake pastry filled with spices, dried fruit, and one tiny doll representing the baby Jesús. Whoever finds the doll in his or her slice has to host the next feast or fiestecita, which is not very far off, on Candlemas, which falls on February 2nd. The terms holly (as in holly wreath) and holy are remotely related, distant cousins shall we say. From the Olde English halig meaning "hallowed" or "holy", this eventually through the centuries became the Middle English holie, connoting "wholesomeness", as a circular wreath would indicate.

The Celtic Druids of ancient times are the first society in known prehistory to have worn sprigs of holly. Sprigs of this yellow-green plant with its waxy white berries were also hung in their homes in order to ensure familial harmony and a year's good fortune.

For these bygone Celtic priests of yesteryear believed that holly, with its glossy and shiny prickly leaves of green adorned with red berries, remained green the entire year due to their magical properties. Mistletoe and holly berries were considered sacred to the Druids. The bright colors of the holly bush made it a natural representation of life and rebirth during the cold harshness of the wintry whiteness of northern Europe. Along with evergreens, these Teutonic peoples traditionally placed holly plants within their dwellings to ward off unwanted lurking spirits and menacing winter storms. Curiously, many speculate that the holly berries have given us our green and red colors of Christmas. This same plant was also sacred to the Romans during their Saturnalia festival. The Romans exchanged holly wreaths as gifts, with the entailing symbolism of the circle of the wreath implying Eternal Life itself. Once Christianity took hold in Rome, however, holly wreaths became integrated with the Christmas holiday.

By the 17th Century, holly had become a grander part of the Christmas merriment. Soon the lovely verdant plant became Christianized to symbolize Jesus Christ's crown of thorns put atop his head by his Roman persecutors, while the red berries came to represent the blood of Christ (el sangre de Cristo). Holly then came to stand for peace, joy, contentment, and the hearth, yet many farmers in England had planted the holly berries near their homes to ward off witches and evil spirits during the dark chill of wintertime. A sprig of holly tied to one's bedpost often foretold of sweet dreams. A liquid tonic from the holly leaves brewed as a hot tea was said to act as a cough syrup and to have many medicinal properties in preventing the common cold.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lil' JJ

Babies, as innocent and powerless as they are, make the world go round. As soon as they are conceived, they make you give up a lot of things you love---like smoking, late nights, alcohol, roller-coaster rides, binge eating, bungee jumping, non-stop shopping. Having a baby is a life-changing experience, according to my friends. Babies make you feel hopeful about the future, that the next generation will right the wrongs done by the older generation. But don’t discount the fact that having a baby can also cause apprehension. The world is a dangerous place; people seem to stop caring about each other anymore.

All things considered, there seems to be no right time to have a baby these days. The cost of raising a child is staggering, especially for a single working woman. So I was surprised when a friend of mine decided to get pregnant anyway despite the indecisiveness of the baby’s father. I admire my friend’s courage in going through her pregnancy alone…I meant, in the absence of the man who got her in that condition.

With our outdated traditions and sometimes bizarre social customs, I’m happy that the laudable Filipino family values are still alive today. We have a tremendous support system that is not common elsewhere. And my friend is very lucky to have this kind of support from her family.

Let’s welcome JJ, my newest inaanak! This little boy is a bubbly and delightful bundle of joy…not to mention, good-looking! Nagmana sa ninang!

If I have a monument in this world, it is my son.
~ Maya Angelou

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Pardon my ignorance but I didn’t know what alibata was. During the Oakwood mutiny in 2005, alibata was emblazoned on the Magdalo soldiers’ armbands but it didn’t stay in my memory bank. I read the word again during the NPC press freedom mural controversy, where Bonifacio, depicted as a cigarette vendor, had a tattoo on his arm---an alibata---which was replaced with a heart pierced with an arrow in the altered version. I got curious what this alibata is all about.

Alibata is a script that first represented the ancient Filipino language and writing system before the Spanish came. The origin of the script has not yet been ascertained---some believe it came from India, or Celebes. It was used around AD 1000-1200, and was extinct by the late 18th century. Only two forms of the indigenous scripts survive today: the script used by the Tagbanwa of Palawan, and by the Mangyan of Mindoro.

The term alibata was coined inexplicably to mimic the first two letters of the alphabet of the Maguindanao, used in the southern Philippines, which is derived from Arabic. (The term refers to the first two letters, alif and bet.) It is also called baybayin, which means "to spell" in Tagalog.
Reading about alibata, I stumbled into Hector Santos’ A Philippine Leaf where he wrote about the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. An 8 x 12 inches copperplate inscribed with a mysterious script found along the shores of Laguna de Bay in 1989. The object gives a precise date from the Sanskrit calendar which dates back to 900 AD. This is 621 years earlier from the first observations recorded by Pigafetta in 1521.

Why does the world consider China, Japan, and Thailand as countries that have a tradition of writing and assume that the Philippines owe its literacy to the Spanish? It is because these countries use their own writing systems while Filipinos read and write in the Latin alphabet. Although outsiders may be forgiven for such a belief, many Filipinos unfortunately also do not know that a writing system was in place in the Philippines long before the Spaniards arrived.
Pedro Chirino, a Jesuit historian, who wrote in his 1604 Relacion de las Islas filipinas,

All these islanders are much given to reading and writing, and there is hardly a man, much less a woman, who does not read and write.

Many other historians had similar conclusions, including Dr. Antonio Morga, Senior Judge Advocate of the High Court of Justice and commander of the ill-fated galleon-turned-warship San Diego that was sunk by the Dutch Admiral van Noort. He wrote in his 1609 Sucesos de las Islas filipinas,

Almost all the natives, both men and women, write in this language. There are very few who do not write it excellently and correctly.

It was a simple and elegant system that was called baybayin or alibata.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Don't quote me

Underground River, Palawan

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.

~Henry David Thoreau

Friday, December 7, 2007

Delayed sleep-phase disorder

I envy people who fall asleep as soon as they close their eyes, or their backs hit the bed. My sister falls asleep standing up in the bus. Counting cows inside my head doesn’t work; I change animals to count through the years---ants, ducks, penguins, and I would still be counting by sunrise. I also tried counting bubbles, stars, cracks on the walls and ceilings, tiles in the bathroom. But sleep hides in places I can’t find.

I never cared much for sleeping even when I was a kid. The afternoon naps imposed by my parents were always met with resistance…like eating vegetables or brushing my hair when I get out of bed in the morning. As I grow older, I learned to eat some vegetables, and was compelled to brush my hair regularly lest I’d be mistaken as an escapee of a mental asylum. But sleeping has remained something that I regard with dislike. It interferes with things that I’d rather be doing.

The bad sleeping hygiene resulted to sleeplessness even when I wanted and needed to sleep. By mid-20’s, I would go on weeks, even months without a decent night sleep. My job was 9-5 and it was a struggle getting to work on time. I tried a cocktail of sleeping/wake-up pills, alcohol, relaxation techniques, exercise, marijuana and other home remedies---but they were all temporary solution, nothing really worked.

Insomnia runs in my family. My mother used to take Valium, my brother had transient insomnia when he was a teenager. So we all thought I was also suffering from the same sleep disorder. About 3 years ago, I went to a sleep clinic and consulted a sleep expert after seeing her on TV. The doctor’s diagnosis was not insomnia but another form of sleep disorder called Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome (DSPS).

DSPS is a chronic disorder of the timing of sleep, peak period of alertness and other rhythms. People with DSPS tend to fall asleep well after midnight and also have difficulty waking up in the morning. Sufferers manage only a few hours sleep a night during the working week, then compensate by sleeping until the afternoon on weekends. Sleeping in on weekends, and/or taking long naps during the day, gives people with the disorder relief from daytime sleepiness but also perpetuates the late sleep phase.

It’s difficult to explain a sleep disorder to those who have no difficulties falling asleep. It’s like describing a green leaf to a blind person.

Through the years, my family, friends and co-workers have come to accept that I’m a nocturnal creature. I feel most creative, alert and more active at night. Much as I want to be at my desk at 9 a.m. like everybody else, it’s hopelessly difficult.

I would love to be “cured” and start a new way of life, like a "normal" person.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

America: still rockin'

Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell are in their mid 50’s and have been making music for the past 37 years. They’re the main men of a folk rock band, America…and they rocked The Big Dome last night.

Beckley, Bunnell and Peek were sons of American servicemen stationed in UK. The trio formed the band in 1969 until Dan Peek left in ’77. I lost count of the albums they released all these years but I have their Greatest Hits cd, and if I’ll dig into my baol, I’d sure unearth 1 or 2 America cassette tapes.

The music of America is part of my generation. I discovered the band with their song “I Need You”---one of the first songs I practiced my inept guitar skills on way back in high school, more than half a life ago. It was great to rediscover the music of America last night.

When they sang “Ventura Highway”, the audience sang along. And once the audience started, there was no stopping us! “Ventura Highway” brought me back to the afternoons under the shade of an ancient acacia tree where my classmates and I would sing and play the guitar over a well-worn copy of Mop Top magazine.

Every song brings back memories, and the pleasure came on different levels. It felt like a high school reunion of sorts---nobody in the audience, it seemed to me, was younger than 35!  There was a connection, a kinship and we laughed as we sang along---I guess, each of us remembering the people and places we associated with each song.

My favorites are “Sister Golden Hair”, “Daisy Jane”, “You Can Do Magic” and “Muskrat Love”. It was great to listen to the band’s acoustic trademark live. Beckley’s voice quality was not as good as before but hey, Lolo Gerry is still rockin’! Bunnell still has a strong voice and I love his rendition of the “Sandman”…Funny I’ve been there/and you’ve been here/and we aint had no time to drink that beer/I understand you’ve been running from the man who goes by the name of the sandman…

“Tin Man” reminds of an uncle who taught me to play the guitar. My friends and I giggled while singing “Lonely People”. I also enjoyed their version of “California Dreamin’”, originally done by The Mamas and the Papas, way before my time. 

When Beckley sat on the piano and began singing “All My Life”, all of Araneta took out their cel phones and recorded the performance. How could I forget slow dancing to “All My Life” with my high school sweetheart? We were all sweaty and out of breath after all the “Grease” dance steps…but when “All My Life” played, we were on the dance floor in a flash. Oh, those were the days! 

“A Horse with No Name” brought the house down. Our voices galloped all the way to the rooftop of The Dome. You don’t really know how much you miss these classics until you sing them. My vocal chords still reverberate. 

You can still catch America tonight...but in Cagayan de Oro, the last leg of their Philippine tour.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Monday Blues

After the weekend, Monday mornings are always a reminder that it's another week of keeping my nose to the grindstone. I'm always zombie-like on Monday mornings. This morning was cloudy, and that kept me in bed for another 20 minutes. Remember that Carpenters' song, "talking to myself and feeling low/sometimes I’d like to quit/nothing ever seems to fit/walking around, nothing to do but frown/rainy days on Mondays always get me down". This song perfectly describes my Monday blues. Nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don't belong...

Anyway, nothing meaningful and earth-shaking happened to me during the long weekend. The weekend was marked by a series of uneventful yet pleasant episodes in a life of a single woman with nothing else to do. Out of boredom, I secretly wished for a week-long coup d'etat! Unfortunately, tear gas was enough to make the coup plotters surrender, so I resigned myself to the doldrums of a long weekend. Sigh!


I planned of going to Liwasang Bonifacio last Friday to witness the celebration of Andres Bonifacio's 144th birthday. But I got stuck in front of the television watching commentaries on Trillanes’ recent misadventure at the Manila Pen. By late Friday afternoon, my friends called from Greenbelt inviting me to have coffee with them. After dinner at Capricciosa, we explored the newly-opened Greenbelt 5 while debating on which movie to watch---my friends wanted to see One More Chance (giggles), I wanted to see The Namesake. I was out-voted! Fortunately [for me], One More Chance was not being shown at Greenbelt 3 (yeheyyyy!) and we were too lazy to walk to Glorietta.

The Namesake is based on a novel of the same title written by Jhumpa Lahiri. I came upon this novel early this year when I was grounded at the Minneapolis airport on my way to San Francisco. Our plane returned to the terminal 15 minutes after take off after we complained of an unpleasant odor inside the plane---it smelled like a combination of daing and smelly feet! It turned out, there was some problem with the plane’s air-conditioning system. The flight was delayed for almost 4 hours!

With nothing else to do, I looked for a bookstore thinking of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies (a Pulitzer-prize winning debut). Interpreter, however, was out of stock…so I bought The Namesake. And I’m glad I did.

Gogol Ganguli, an American-born son of Indian immigrants, was afflicted from birth with a name that is neither Indian nor American. He is given a name by his father, who before coming to America to study at MIT, was almost killed in a train accident in India. Ashoke, the father, was holding on to pages of Nikolai Gogol’s book when rescuers found him. The story of Gogol and his family kept me busy and entertained till I landed in Manila. I cried my eyes out on the plane while reading this novel that the old guy across the aisle was giving me sympathetic looks, and the flight attendant served me an extra scoop of ice cream.

The movie also sent me to tears (I pretended to wipe my nose!). I could relate to Ashima’s (Gogol’s mother) loneliness in a foreign land, away from her family and anything familiar.


I was supposed to go to the supermarket in the morning but I was too lazy. Spending the whole Saturday morning in bed listening to the radio was a pleasant exercise. I had a late lunch then went back to bed for a nap and by 3:30 pm, I was driving towards Mandarin Hotel to check out the Annual Wiredstate Hi-Fi Show. But the line to the parking lot was very long; I drove around once, and then decided to go to MoA instead. I was planning to see SM Science Discovery Center in preparation to my nephews Xmas vacation in 2 weeks. But the Science Discovery Center was full of school children---the reason for 10 or so buses at the parking lot.

By dinner time, I was at Seaside with 3 friends binging on suahe, talaba, crabs and lapu-lapu. We went to the nearby pet shop after dinner and shopped for our dogs’ Santa costume. I also bought cookies and a red shirt for Fritz.

Happy that the curfew was imposed for only 1 night, we drove to Bonifacio High Street to have coffee. The place was packed with people. The midnight breeze was cold we regretted not bringing our jackets.


Catching up on movies/TV series that I missed is usually my Sunday morning activity. Brunch in front of the TV watching Hairspray in my pajamas was the place to be...also feasted on House' Season 4. Then chatted with my land lord about the Trillanes’ disaster while reading the newspapers. A retired soldier and a loyal Binay supporter---you can imagine which side he’s on.

I put an Armik cd on, played with Fritz, and gave him a bath. Made pop corn and began reading Istanbul (by Orhan Pamuk) until it’s time to leave for the supermarket. It was crazy at the mall---I was dizzy with all the people, colors, and movement before my eyes. Christmas songs permeated the air---the merry season is definitely here!


When I woke up this morning, I knew I had the blues. I wonder if there's a medical term for it. I'm just tired of feeling this way on Monday mornings. Just when you're getting used to the weekend---it's over!

The long weekend produced a languor in my soul I feel that I have been sleep-walking the whole day. I decided to write this blog while having coffee to get my brains into mental aerobics. My blood is just warming up...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


a shift will break

the night

in my head,

i will sleep in all four corners...

we left the precipice

for different reasons;

i was through collecting taxidermy,

you were practicing to become a bird...

emerging between two flares,

this strange kink in your prominence

belonging no more

to one place than the next,

moving sidelong through the flowers,

fast disappearing...

i bring you several years at once,

of last days and future mornings

grafting a place in the sky,

it's a hobby along with beachcombing;

until you evolve, serenely

into someone i have always wanted.


-for that cat squashed to pulp infront of La Salle,

and the cat I met last night.

he might have crossed without looking

or his nimble little feet slipped

from the island just as the light turned green

he might have spotted another alley cat

staring with the hots of a Friday evening
he might have been challenged

to test his catty prowess---that swiftness

that sharpens the keen kitty alertness

after months, perhaps even years

of street loneliness

he might have thought of adventures

daddy cat would have warned him

or he might have realized

that nine lives just too much for a lifetime

mommy cat wouldn't have recognized him

nor those who've got the sharp little eyes

for his streamlined leanness

he's just another mat of white fur carpet

soiled at the edges with the grime of wheels

stiff at the seams where the stitches of life gave in---

faceless the bones

which have shaped his feline days

lie scattered
flattened into rags

like tattered snippets of guilt

the rush hour have transformed

into dry absorbers of the day's


Monday, November 26, 2007

Living Treasures

a T'boli weaver

Visiting the 1st AHPADA International Arts & Crafts Expo last Saturday was another enriching experience for me as a Filipino. All ASEAN countries participated in the expo, as well as countries like USA, Maldives, India, Nepal and Nigeria. In a booth called "Kalilimodan" (a gathering) was a visual art exhibit of the Philippines' indigenous people organized by Kalinawa Art Foundation, a non profit organization with a mission to help develop the Indigenous Peoples' art sector.

But I was most interested in the NCCA (Philippines’ National Commission for Culture & Arts) booth where they exhibited traditional musical instruments, wood carvings and a T’boli weaver of tnalak or tboli cloth. NCCA also featured the awardees of the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan.

There’s a musician from the highlands of Southern Palawan, Masino Intaray who uses traditional musical instruments. A Mangyan ambahan poet from Mindoro named Ginaw Bilog, Lang Dulay, a T’boli weaver from Lake Sebu, Salinta Monon, a Bagobo weaver from Davao del Sur, Alonzo Saclag, a Kalinga master of dance and performing arts, a folklorist from Panay, Federico Caballero, Uwang Ahadas, an instrumentalist from Lamitan, Basilan, Darhata Sawabi, a weaver of pis syabit, the traditional cloth tapestry worn as a head covering by the Tausog of Jolo.

Eduardo Mutuc, a sculptor and wood carver from Pampanga, Samaon Sulaiman, a kutyapi (two-stringed plucked lute) and kulintang (gong-chime) player from Maguindanao, and a master mat-weaver from Tawi-Tawi, Haja Amina Appi.

The artistry and dedication of these living treasures prove just how rich the Filipino culture is. Let’s be proud of our heritage…

Friday, November 23, 2007


For the past month or so I toured several apartments in different areas in Makati. I also drove around the streets near my friends’ home so we could be neighbors. These tours were scheduled before I knew my landlady would change her mind and let me stay. I was being kicked out because my landlady’s youngest daughter is getting married in December and would like to move in my apartment with her new husband. Much as I hate to move, I understand my landlady’s decision.

In my apartment-hunting expeditions, I encountered a few interesting if not weird characters. Each apartment I’ve seen has a name in my head so I wouldn’t forget the details.

The blue door. This was located on a quiet street 10 minutes away from my current apartment. The last tenant left the day before I viewed the place, and it was a total mess. The walls were vandalized with coffee stains and pencil drawings---I imagined people throwing coffee at each other and kids suffering from Dysgraphia writing compulsively on every wall. The whole place looked like the former tenants hadn’t cleaned for years! The owner’s son looked at the place disgustingly while giving me a tour. He promised to call me as soon as the renovations are done, or I’ll give him a call in 2 weeks. P8,000/month. Probably yes.

Bella Flores. I’m calling this brand new apartment ‘Bella Flores’ because the owner has a strong resemblance to the actress. Solid doors, great-looking cabinets, nice bathrooms, spacious rooms. The location is good and the compound looks quiet and secure. But she’s asking too much for this 2-bedroom apartment. Plus, there’s an extra fee for parking space. P10,000/month plus P1,500/month for parking. No way.

Yellow. This is an old apartment but newly painted in yellow. There’s yellow everywhere! No kitchen cabinets, the bathroom looks creepy, roaches were all over the walls in the kitchen. The floors are covered in dirty-white vinyl that resembles a hospital floor. Spacious upstairs bedrooms, big windows, nice garden but very narrow pathway to the gate, street-parking. P7,500/month. Probably not.

Mr. Suave. The gate was opened by a man who has the mannerisms of Mr. Suave. He was disgustingly charming, I almost burst out laughing. When I asked to see the vacant apartment, he rubbed his chin like he was analyzing some math problem that would solve this country’s foreign debt. Then he spoke in his Mr. Suave voice that his family has a tradition of not showing the apartment after 6pm. I was itching to ask---are you afraid of vampires viewing your apartment at night? Then he winked at me and said that he’s breaking the tradition for me because I look like a good girl (akala lang n’ya yon!) and went back inside to get the keys.

Anyway, the street in front of the apartment building was a little flooded due to a broken water pipe. There was also a small mountain of garbage for collection, the gate badly needed a paint job---it looked like a tetanus waiting to happen. Inside was a 2-storey apartment with narrow stairs, small bedrooms and a bathroom for midgets. P7,000/month. No go.

Perfect. A secure gate and a porch, 2 spacious bedrooms on the second floor and a huge bathroom, 1 smaller bedroom on the ground floor that can be a home-office, with built-in book shelves. Hardwood floors upstairs, big windows, large laundry area, and a basketball court [which is converted into a parking lot at night] across the street. The owners are a likeable couple. Problem is, the current tenant has not paid rent for 4 months and kept on promising to pay. The tenant said she’s moving out soon but as of last weekend, the apartment has not been vacated yet. The owners are asking me to wait until the current tenant has moved out. P8,500/month. Yes, yes, yes!

Last weekend I started packing the dinner wares, glass wares and books in boxes---I was planning to move out by end of the month. Then my landlady called the other day to ask if I have already found an apartment and if I have given a deposit. I told her about the “perfect” apartment but haven’t given any deposit yet. She asked if I would prefer to stay---I said yes. After all, moving all the furniture and all my stuff is a lot of work. Even when my cousins, friends and neighbors offered to help me move, it’s still a lot to go through. My landlady explained that she wants me to stay because her soon-to-be son-in-law is not very keen on living so near his in-laws. My prayers were answered, after all!

So here I am, taking out the plates and glasses from the boxes in slow motion while watching TV. Fritz looks at me with his hug-me-I'm-yours-look, tongue sticking out, and wags his tail…I’ll wiggle my tail, too, if I have one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Secret No More

I have always been apprehensive and reluctant to show doodles and other creative efforts to my family. When my first article was published in my high school paper, an aunt who was an English teacher questioned me endlessly why I didn’t show her my draft. Truth be told, I was afraid of being critiqued by a bunch of aunts, uncles, cousins not to mention my mean sister and brothers. Growing up in a family where people are not shy to express their opinions, it was scary for a 14-year old wannabe-writer to flaunt her efforts at a merciless mob of quipsters.

Imagine yourself rehearsing a declamation piece on top of the dining table with a dozen relatives as your critic, judge and jury. By the time I was 13 I would sneak into the bathroom and lock the door to practice in front of the mirror instead of enduring an afternoon of ruthless coaching from my aunts.

I never flinch when other people criticize me, I had lots of practice at home---I either take it constructively or with a grain of salt. But it’s always difficult to swallow when rebuked by loved ones. Thankfully, I am getting a bit braver and tougher as I age. An aunt now living in Florida sent this email after reading my ‘Miranda’ blog page…

Dearest Luna,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your blogs. While your Tito Dodong was reading to me, I felt like going back to being a child, having fun with everything around me most especially with important people whose principle and conviction I have imbibed, have lived with and never regretted it for one moment. I pray that I can go on living up to their expectation through the last remaining years of my life. To you and me they are immortal and create a kind of feeling of very personal grandeur.

Miranda is very special to us. It is magical. Places are made up of people, and they are those that make happiness real, cause our people are real people, incomparable, compelling and they are alive in you and me and in every generation to come.

When I get so sad I readily accept loneliness. I let my spirit travel to Miranda with my Nanay, and be grateful for having been born, and spent the life I have had, and begin to start living again. I have always believed that we are trained and expected to rise every time we fall. It is in our nature, and that is what we are.

Luna, I will always treasure your e-mails, but this is the best! You gave me a glimpse to peep into your innermost soul. Let us altogether make Miranda come alive. Hopefully we can come to have a place like that with all the dear people and with the help of GOD.

Please give my love and prayers to the family.

Much love from us,
Tito Dodong and Tita Rosie

I actually cried after reading Tita Rosie’s email…well, I’m such a crybaby anyway. But I’m glad that I’ve somewhat overcome being diffident towards my family. Oh well, we're definitely getting better as we get older.

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.

~Erma Bombeck

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Discovery and Imagination

"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand."
~ Frank Herbert

I started school when I was four. I do not think it was because I was especially smart. But I think my parents wanted me out of the house because I asked too many weird questions. I remember being obsessed with the indentation between our nose and our lips. I overheard an aunt (my mother's cousin) saying that people with deeper indentation are tamawo---fairies who inhabit anthills, they pretend to be humans, attend church but leave before the benediction. So I examined everybody I see at home, in the bus, at the market, church, even the neighbors. And I would ask my elders if they agree that this and that is a tamawo---his or her indentation is much deeper than ours.

Kindergarten school was my whole world. I loved my school uniform---a blue jumper and pink blouse with puffed sleeves, lace socks and black shiny shoes. My bag was full of crayons, papers and pencils and ten pieces of pandesal with peanut butter or Milkmaid condensed milk as palaman. My grandfather didn’t want me to have pocket money to school, worried that I might cross the street to buy something and be run over by a bus. I savored each day I spent in kindergarten…it was my little personal launch to a life of knowing, of discovery.

From then on, I discovered books, comic books, magazines. I guess my siblings and I are lucky because we grew up in a house full of books and reading materials, where people debate and argue about anything and everything at the dinner table. My aunts and uncles are all opinionated, my grandfather was the ringleader. And even we kids were encouraged to join into their debates. The only quiet member of the family is my grandmother (she’s now 95 years old). A younger aunt would ask something about her physics assignment and everybody would tease her about how low her IQ is.

Then my grandfather would launch into his speech that we keep our interest in everything; that we’d be curious about how the natural world works and even if we know that a mystery may not be solved in our lifetime, we’ll try anyway. I don’t remember my grandfather's exact words but he was always passionate about not being afraid to walk your mind…that it is like the universe; it does not walk into a limit but it creates the space as it expands. He reminded all of us at the dinner table that we were all born with talents but what we do with them is yet undefined and will be our entire life’s work. He demanded that we seek where and how we can be most creative. To work hard and set our sights high but pay attention to the little things.

I learned from these debates that intelligence is only liberating if it frees yourself and perhaps others, of ignorance. If not, then it is just overbearing nuisance and therefore a curse, not just to me but to others. He emphasized that the pleasure in finding things out is deeper than the recognition by any award, and that knowing and understanding make living so worthwhile. He wanted his children and grandchildren to work from a desire to discover and imagine how nature, in its many aspects, does its job of creation so well in an endeavor called science — one of the greatest pleasures of being human — worthy of any pursuit spanning entire lifetimes…Or something to that effect… Now I think all these maybe were a combination of my grandfather, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman’s wisdom.

We were all in awe of my grandfather (we called him Lolo Toñing). People admired as well as feared him. He had a volatile temper and didn’t mince his words for the sake of anybody’s feelings. We called him Bonifacio behind his back because he always carried a bolo knife around. I realized when I was a bit older that he used it in tending to his crops; he turned into a farmer of some sorts after his retirement. He was a voracious reader, a coffee drinker, a smoker and a great storyteller to us kids…of his adventures, black magic, World War II and his encounters with Japanese soldiers, among others. One unforgettable story was the mandragona tree in Spain---where you take its deepest roots, then burn it on a crossroad where blood was once shed, kill a baby in the middle of that crossroad and you will see the devil face to face, even talk to him. Not exactly a bedtime story for kids…but I enjoyed it. I loved the feeling of my little heart beating faster under my chest.

Then there’s the story of a black cat…take the black cat by the back of its neck and let it stare at a noonday (12:00 noon) sun. When the cat’s eyes are shedding tears, wipe the cat’s tears to your eyes and you will see everything the cat sees. My little brother and I tried it one time but the cat was very skittish and we couldn’t get hold of it. When we told Lolo Toñing about the cat incident, he admonished us that cats see things that would scare most humans, and would even drive us insane; he made us promise not to try it again.

Lolo Toñing would sit in his bamboo lounge chair after dinner and we kids would sit by the floor. Stories about aswangs (a generic term to all types of mythological creatures, ghost, witches, shape shifters, monsters) were our nightly entertainment before going to bed---we had no TV. He told us about the kapre, a big black hairy creature smoking a huge cigar, and living in the old kapok tree at the backyard. During the full moon, I would nervously peep from the window hoping to see the kapre. I comforted myself and thought of it as our night guard, watching over us while we sleep.

My grandfather also narrated that he once spent a night in a house of a maranhig, a living dead with the strength of ten persons. The man died but somebody who resented the dead man brought him back to life by applying mercury to his scrotum. The maranhig tickles his victims to death and turns to dust when it gets wet and decomposes into worms. Lolo Toñing barely escaped with his life. Then he would tickle us until we were all shrieking with laughter.

And I would never forget his encounter with a santermo (St. Elmo’s fire) when he was a young man. A ball of fire that changes its shape chased him until he dived into a well to get it off his back. He later explained to us the scientific fact behind the St. Elmo’s fire. But my young mind preferred the supernatural version of the story.

I believe that the stories from childhood set my sights on knowing and discovering so much more. I’m always curious and interested…haven’t lost the sense of wonder. I embrace the larger world with the march of my own mind.

"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."

~ Albert Einstein

Friday, November 16, 2007

Creativity and Innovation

quirky and playful Yo-Yo daybed made from the humble lampakanay,
designed by Carlo Tanseco

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN Handicraft Promotion and Development Association (AHPADA), the Philippines will host the 1st AHPADA International Arts and Crafts Expo at SMX Convention and Exhibition Center at the SM Central Business Park on 22-25 November 2007.

With the theme "Creativity & Innovation: A Renaissance ", this four-day event will highlight the culture, lifestyle and arts & crafts of the different participating countries. This will provide great awareness about the significance and the beauty of arts and crafts in each country's cultural roots and economic growth. This interactive event affords us an opportunity to capture prospective suppliers, forge possible joint ventures, and expand your business network, among others.

Participating countries includes Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Lao P.D.R., Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, USA (Hawaii) and Vietnam either through their government or the private sector.

The Expo will give us a chance to see the products and skills of ASEAN craftsmen and the rest of the world.

This is an opportunity for us to witness a sensory celebration of life, as AHPADA showcases the best of international arts and culture.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Memories of San Francisco

view from Telegraph Hill

with my friend, Noel at the Yerba Buena Gardens

Alcatraz "The Rock"

a lone pelican

Fisherman's Wharf

Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old lover. You want to linger as long as possible. It's simply a romantic place...just one look at those hilly streets, and you couldn't be anywhere else---it's beautiful with a sense of a free spirit. It's a city of perpetual spring, the flare of adventure in the blood.

Don't quote me

Talikud Island, Samal

I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

~ Ayn Rand

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My net worth

You need to find a husband,” Jason, my hair-stylist, announced while massaging my scalp. I pretended not to hear and continued to read a magazine. He ignored my silence as he blabbered about a single male customer of his who was “just right” for me. There was a time when such comments about my single state would rub me the wrong way.

To Jason and the others who meddled in my personal life, a woman my age should be in the happily-ever-after set---not still waiting for Mr. Right. If a woman my age hadn’t walked down the aisle and tied the knot, folks thought something was wrong with her. An elder relative even asked me once if I was a lesbian!

For many years, I agreed with them. The word single sounded like a disease to be avoided at all costs. If being single was so great, then why did most of my friends constantly date in an effort to head toward the altar? And why did the single women I knew seem like miserable misfits? There was my 3rd grade teacher who played the piano until the wee hours of the morning. My grandfather's cousin, Lola Deling, braided flowers in hair and was mad as a March hare.

I concluded marriage and motherhood equaled “success” for a woman; singleness branded her a failure. Thankfully, as I got older, I got wiser. My notion that a woman’s worth is based solely on her marital status was challenged. Over the years my eyes were opened to the many ways I am considered a success---even as a single woman. I had the best lessons as a single woman through a few forgettable dates. I refused to compromise my standards---it was mostly met with anger and disappointment but I held on.

Instead of needing a husband and kids to find my worth as a woman, I’ve come to realize success is measured only in knowing what you value and you stick with it. With God shaping my perspective, there’s no such thing as failure.

The fact is, sometimes it's really hard to walk in a single woman's shoes. That's why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun.

Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous.
~ Carrie Bradshaw

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I remember being happy...

While having drinks with my friends one Friday night, a girlfriend asked nobody in particular, ‘what is happiness anyway?’ I don’t know if it was meant as a rhetorical question. I tried to answer her but everyone in the table agreed that we had one too many and we should talk about “happier” things, instead. It is a thorn in my friends’ collective side talking about “philosophical” things, otherwise known as serious topics.

Oh by the way, we are in a country where the word “philosopher” is considered an insult. To Filipinos, a “pilosopo” is a smart-aleck---someone who engages in meticulous and abstract reasoning; someone who attempts to challenge conventions. This is personified in Jose Rizal's character, Pilosopo Tasyo. Being a "philosopher" here is a sign of weirdness, a term of ridicule and mockery.

Anyway, I asked myself the same question a few nights ago---both philosophically and anthropologically. What is happiness? My late mathematician-friend-turned-philosopher after a certain amount of alcohol once told me that happiness is defined according to ones personal values and the values of a particular culture.

For a bed-ridden 90-year old Casanova, his definition of happiness may be an erection, or an empty bladder. I know of some people who are happy taking Prozac while others are happy helping street children. A sexually promiscuous woman revealed in Cosmo that she looks for happiness (orgasm) by sleeping with various men. A self-sacrificing wife finds happiness in taking care of her abusive husband. My 9-year old nephew's happiness is Jollibee's chicken joy and french fries.

Our concept of happiness, after all, is the single most important motivation for us---the very reason for our lives. Which leads me to my next questions---is happiness just an emotion, or a mere psychological state? Is there anything more to being happy than just thinking “I’m happy”? Or is happiness a way of life?

From Aristotle to Woody Allen, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Bart Simpson to Dagul of Pugad Baboy, much has been said and still being said about happiness. Aristotle focused on long-term and objective happiness. While some talked about self-deception and happiness, that we can mislead ourselves into thinking we’re happy when we’re not and we can be happy without realizing it. A philosopher said, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

Happiness to me is one component of the good life. And again, the definition of a good life varies from one person to another. A good life to you may be a 3-bedroom unit at Serendra, a Jaguar, and millions in the bank, famous friends, and a boyfriend/girlfriend who worships the ground you walk on. My good life is embracing reality and facts rather than denying the truth, spontaneity, acceptance of myself and others and lacking in prejudice; and interest in solving problems, including my own emotional conflicts with people around me. I equate reaching my potentials to personal happiness.

I sometimes wonder if I really have the power to choose to be happy or unhappy. All I know is happiness is not a congenital disposition that was given to me when I was born, it isn’t a goal I’ll never reach, and it isn’t even a possession or the result of possession. So what is happiness? I have the definitions and a lot of unanswered questions.

But when I’m miserable, I understand feeling small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And how it can truly ache in places I didn’t know I have inside me. And it doesn’t matter how many massages or hot oils I get, or how many bottles of beer I drink with my friends…I still go to bed every night going over every detail and wonder what I did wrong. And in one crazy moment I would remember that I had been happy. Then one morning, I wake up feeling worthwhile again, and the little pieces of my soul finally come back. And all that painful stuff, the days of my life that I wasted eventually begin to fade. That is the mystery of happiness.

Happiness, it seems to me, consists of two things: first, in being where you belong, and second -- and best -- in comfortably going through everyday life, that is, having had a good night's sleep and not being hurt by new shoes.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Full moon and other stories

The full moon is always a marvel. I never tire of full moons and have always felt a connection when I see the moon rise above the trees. Growing up in a rural area, watching the full moon with my grandmother was one of the highlights of my childhood. Sitting on the bamboo bench under the old langka tree, we would listen to the sounds of crickets, of jubilant frogs singing a cappella, and a distant call of birds at twilight---a poignant moon rising beyond the cornfield, beyond the bamboo trees. It’s an indelible memory of richness and color and song.

Full moons are traditionally linked to temporal insomnia, insanity, crime, disasters, fertility, vampires, werewolves, and aswangs, among other things. The notion that some people act strangely during a full moon has been around in every culture for ages…they call it the “full moon effect”. In Hitchcock's films, Stephen King's novels, there is always an element of the full moon effect. I can't recall the title of an old film where there was a scene of a widow wailing arias of grief during a full moon. And of course, a dog howling at the full moon sends shivers to my spine.

I remember the huge sineguelas tree in front of my grandmother’s house. Its leafless branches create gnarled shadows during full moon---the setting of my childhood horror fantasies.

The full moon has an enduring place in poetry, music, and mythology...even religion. People are inspired by it and sometimes afraid of it. And you may ask, with all the goings on and distractions of living in the city, why look up? Well, because sometimes we are rewarded with a spectacular natural event like a hauntingly beautiful full moon.